House votes to renew FISA surveillance laws revealed by …

The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to renew US spy powers first revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013.

The US House of Representatives gave a boost to the government’s surveillance powers.

Lawmakers voted 256-164on Thursday to extend NSA programs that collect communications over the internet for national security purposes.

The law that authorized the surveillance programs is set to expire on Jan. 19.

That law, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, was passed in 2008. Under it, a court that hears secret national security matters decides whether to let the National Security Agency collect emails, documents and other internet communications in government surveillance programs known as Prism and Upstream.

The Prism program collects communications from internet services directly. The Upstream program collects data as it travels across the internet. The programs target people outside the US, but do collect the communications of Americans who communicate with the targets of spies overseas.

Details of those programs became public in 2013 when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed them to journalists, who published stories in the Guardian and The Washington Post. After those disclosures, the government declassified information about the programs and began publishing annual transparency reports about the use of the surveillance tools.

The original deadline to renew the surveillance powers passed on Dec. 31 without a debate on the floor of either house on potential reforms. Congress voted to extend the programs temporarily until Jan. 19. The Senate must also now vote to renew the powers before the programs can be extended further.

US intelligence agencies have pressed lawmakers to preserve the programs. In a letter to Congress signed by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the heads of the NSA, FBI, Central Intelligence Agency, officials said losing the authority to run these surveillance programs would put the country’s national security in danger. “Section 702 has been instrumental in preventing attacks on the homeland and removing terrorists from the battlefield,” the letter said.

The biggest sticking point for privacy advocates, including the ACLU, has been a policy allowing the FBI to bypass getting a warrant before accessing emails and other communications of Americans collected by the NSA under these programs.

An amendment that would have required the FBI to obtain a warrant to access information in the NSA’s database failed in the House on Thursday. The bill extending the surveillance programs does require the FBI to get a warrant by arguing they have probable cause to search the NSA’s database in open investigations that don’t involve national security or terrorism. That requirement doesn’t extend to open FBI investigations of terrorism and national security cases.

Demand Progress, a civil-liberties focused advocacy group, condemned the House for voting down the amendment. “By failing to close the backdoor search loophole in this bill, which exposes millions of innocent Americans to warrantless government surveillance, members of Congress have ceded incredible domestic spying powers to the executive branch,” the organization said in a statement.

In debate on the amendment, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia, argued that putting in place the warrant requirement would hinder the FBI’s efforts to prevent terrorism attacks in the US.

“This amendment, plain and simple, would disable 702, our most important national security tool,” he said.

His arguments echoed concerns that requiring a warrant even in cases directly related to national security — rather than other types of criminal investigations — would put up dangerous barriers to communication between US intelligence agencies. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the intelligence community came under scrutiny for failing to share information with each other about the alleged perpetrators before the attacks.

In December, Snowden chimed in on what he and privacy advocates call a “back door” given to other intelligence agencies. He joined ACLU lawyers to answer questions on a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” forum and highlighted the issue of incidentally collected emails and other communications.

“These ‘incidentally collected’ communications of Americans can then be kept and searched at any time, without a warrant. Does that sound right to you?” Snowden said.

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House votes to renew FISA surveillance laws revealed by …

India’s Aadhaar open for abuse: Edward Snowden

NEW DELHI: Whistleblower Edward Snowden has become the latest to raise alarm about the vulnerability of the Aadhaar database, a day after the Tribune newspaper reported that an administrator login ID and password to gain access to the UID portal could be acquired for as little as Rs 500.

Retweeting CBS journalist Zack Whittaker’s response on a BuzzFeed report on the breach of Aadhaar database in India, Snowden said, “It is the natural tendency of government to desire perfect records of private lives. History shows that no matter the laws, the result is abuse.”

Whittaker had earlier said, “ICYMI. India has a national ID database with the private information of nearly 1.2 billion nationals. It has reportedly been breached. Admin accounts can be made and access can be sold to the database, reports BuzzFeed.”

On Thursday, The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which administers the Aadhaar project, defended the system’s security protocols and rejected a report about the ease with which the system can be infiltrated and demographic data accessed.

“Claims of bypassing or duping the Aadhaar enrolment system are totally unfounded,” UIDAI said in a press release. “Aadhaar data is fully safe and secure and has robust uncompromised security. The UIDAI data centres are infrastructure of critical importance and is protected accordingly with high technology conforming to the best standards of security and also by legal provisions.”

Snowden a former CIA contractor leaked classified government documents to expose the US National Security Agency’s internet and phone surveillance in 2013. He has been since living in exile.

According to the Tribune report, whoever had administrator login ID and password would get access to demographic details of Aadhaar holders. The report also alleged there were around 100,000 illegal users and that the racket might have started six months ago. ET has not been able to verify the authenticity of the report.

The UIDAI said it had provided the search facility for the purpose of grievance redressal to designated personnel and state government officials to help Aadhaar holders by entering the ID or enrollment number, such as updating addresses.

“UIDAI maintains complete log and traceability of the facility and any misuse can be traced and appropriate action taken,” it said. “The reported case appears to be instance of misuse of the grievance redressal search facility. As UIDAI maintains complete log and traceability of the facility, the legal action including lodging of FIR against the persons involved in the instant case is being done.”

It also added that “mere display of demographic information cannot be misused without biometrics.”

Experts said that even though biometric details may not have been accessed, leaking of demographic details was a substantial breach in itself and have called for a review of the security practices of Aadhaar.

(ANI contributed to this report.)

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India’s Aadhaar open for abuse: Edward Snowden

A Former NSA Deputy Director Weighs In On ‘Snowden’ – NPR

This image released by Open Road Films shows, from left, Melissa Leo as Laura Poitras, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden, Tom Wilkinson as Ewen MacAskill and Zachary Quinto as Glenn Greenwald, in a scene from “Snowden.” Jrgen Olczyk/AP hide caption

This image released by Open Road Films shows, from left, Melissa Leo as Laura Poitras, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden, Tom Wilkinson as Ewen MacAskill and Zachary Quinto as Glenn Greenwald, in a scene from “Snowden.”

Two very different narratives on the former National Security Agency contractor unfolded this week. Both proved that the debate over whether Edward Snowden is a traitor or a patriot is in no danger of running out of steam.

First, on Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee wrapped up a two-year investigation of Snowden. An unclassified summary of the 36-page report pronounces him a “a serial exaggerator and fabricator” who “caused tremendous damage to national security.”

The week’s other narrative comes from Hollywood director Oliver Stone. The new movie Snowden opened nationwide this weekend and paints him as a hero.

Conspicuously absent from the debate is the NSA itself. The agency declined NPR’s request for an interview reacting to the movie. But Chris Inglis, former deputy director, agreed to see it and share his thoughts.

Inglis says he and Snowden have never met, which is the first of many bones he has to pick with the film. In it, there’s a scene where the NSA deputy director asks Snowden to go to Hawaii to lead an important project. The deputy director at the time, in real life, was Chris Inglis.

“It’s preposterous on its face. For many reasons,” says Inglis. “That a deputy director would reach down to a contractor who’s performing an important but relatively low-level function and ask them to take on a Jason Bourne-like activity? It simply exceeds all propriety.”

Chris Inglis allows that Snowden the movie will shape public perceptions about Snowden the man. It could shift public opinion on who’s the hero and who’s the villain, in the ongoing debate over the top-secret files Snowden leaked and what damage they may have caused.

The movie never claims to be a documentary. One of the opening shots announces it’s a “dramatization of actual events.”

Inglis is skeptical. “Dramatization to me means you add the occasional exclamation point. You bring in a musician to perhaps add some background music. But you don’t tell a story that is fiction.”

Asked what other aspects of the movie strike him as “fiction,” Inglis says it portrays NSA staffers as cavalier about people’s right to privacy, which he says is not true. Inglis also points to a scene involving an aptitude test. Snowden and his fellow recruits at the CIA yes, Snowden worked there, too are assigned to build a covert communications network. Average time to complete the test? Five hours. Not Snowden. He’s done in 38 minutes.

Chris Inglis rolls his eyes.

“Clearly [he’s] a clever person. But NSA makes a habit of hiring smart people. Extremely smart people. Also principled people. So he was clearly the former; turns out he wasn’t the latter.”

By now, you will have gathered where Inglis lands in the “Is-Snowden-a-patriot-or-a-traitor?” debate.

He served 28 years at the NSA, and he’s the first to admit he is not impartial. This week NPR has interviewed both Snowden supporters and critics, airing their views both on the new movie, and on a new campaign for Snowden to be granted a presidential pardon. Snowden declined our request for an interview, and again, so did the current leaders of the NSA. Inglis, who retired in 2014, says he can’t speak for the NSA anymore. But he says he personally is open to viewing Snowden and his motives as complicated.

“I do see him as a more nuanced character,” Inglis says. “Somewhere, there was an attempt or perhaps an intent on his part to do something noble.”

Inglis acknowledges that the NSA did not always strike the perfect balance between collective security and individual rights. He says the NSA should have been more transparent about its domestic surveillance activities since the Sept. 11 attacks.

“But broadly, when I stood back,” he says, “the story that was told [in the movie] was a gross mischaracterization of what NSA’s purposes are. And a gross exaggeration of Edward Snowden’s own particular role in that. To the point where you could come away from looking at that movie, saying why are 50,000 people at the NSA dead wrong? And one is absolutely correct?”

When the trailer for the movie came out back in April, Snowden tweeted, “For two minutes and thirty nine seconds, everybody at NSA just stopped working.” The suggestion being, the spy agency was busy watching.

“I don’t think that’s true,” says Inglis. “I think Edward Snowden wants to be important. Who doesn’t? Who doesn’t want to matter? But we’ve listened to Edward Snowden. We’ve heard what he had to say. We took that moment to examine to be introspective about, what it is he might be talking about that we need to take heed of and do something about. And then, having considered all that, as we must we’ve moved on. And so NSA is looking forward.”

In real life, Snowden remains in exile in Moscow. His visa to stay in Russia runs out next summer, and it’s not clear what he’ll do next. He communicates via Twitter and video link. This week Snowden weighed in, via video, saying he hopes the film will reach a new audience on, quote, “the issues that matter the most.” He also said, “I love my country.”

Originally posted here:
A Former NSA Deputy Director Weighs In On ‘Snowden’ – NPR

Edward Snowden made an app to protect your laptop – The Verge

Earlier this year, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden met with Jacqueline Moudeina, the first female lawyer in Chad and a legendary human rights advocate who has worked tirelessly to bring former dictator Hissne Habr to justice. Habr was convicted of human rights abuses ordering the killing of 40,000 people, sexual slavery, and rape by a Senegalese jury in 2016.

Snowden told Moudeina that he was working on an app that could turn a mobile device into a kind of motion sensor in order to notify you when your devices are being tampered with. The app could also tell you when someone had entered a room without you knowing, if someone had moved your things, or if someone had stormed into your friends house in the middle of the night. Snowden recounted that pivotal conversation in an interview with the Verge. She got very serious and told me, I need this. I need this now. Theres so many people around us who need this.

Haven, announced today, is an app that does just that. Installed on a cheap burner Android device, Haven sends notifications to your personal, main phone in the event that your laptop has been tampered with. If you leave your laptop at home or at an office or in a hotel room, you can place your Haven phone on top of the laptop, and when Haven detects motion, light, or movement essentially, anything that might be someone messing with your stuff it logs what happened. It takes photos, records sound, even takes down changes in light or acceleration, and then sends notifications to your main phone. None of this logging is stored in the cloud, and the notifications you receive on your main phone are end-to-end encrypted over Signal.

Snowden hasnt carried a mobile device since 2013, but in the last couple of years, much of his time has been taken up by prying apart smartphones and poking away at their circuit boards with the aid of fine tweezers and a microscope. In 2016, he collaborated with hardware hacker Andrew Bunnie Huang on Introspection Engine, a phone case that monitors iPhone outputs, alerting you to when your device is sending signals through its antenna.

Snowden is notoriously careful about the technology around him. In the documentary Citizenfour, Snowden is shown taking increasingly extravagant precautions against surveillance, going as far as to drape a pillowcase (his Magic Mantle of Power, he says, deadpan) over himself and his computer when he types in a password. Famously, he also asked journalists to place their phones in the hotel fridge, to prevent transmission of any surreptitious recording through their microphones or cameras.

Snowden at least has a pretty understandable reason to be paranoid and while he doesnt expect the rest of the world to adopt his somewhat inconvenient lifestyle, hes been trying to use his uniquely heightened threat model to improve other peoples lives. I havent carried a phone but I can increasingly use phones, he said. Tinkering with technology to make it acceptable to his own standards gives him insight into how to provide privacy to others.

Did you know most mobile phones these days have three microphones? he asked me. Later he rattled off a list of different kinds of sensors. It wasnt just audio, motion, and light, an iPhone can also detect acceleration and barometric pressure. He had become intimately familiar with the insides of smartphones while working with Bunnie Huang, and the experience had left him wondering if the powerful capabilities of these increasingly ubiquitous devices could be used to protect, rather than invade, peoples privacy sousveillance, rather than surveillance.

It was Micah Lee, a security engineer who also writes at the Intercept, who had the first spark of insight. For years, developers with access to signing keys particularly developers who deal with incredibly sensitive work like the Tor Project have become fairly paranoid about keeping their laptops in sight at all times. This has much to do with what security researcher Joanna Rutkowska dubbed the evil maid attack. Even if you encrypt your hard drive, a malicious actor with physical access to your computer (say, a hotel housekeeper of dubious morals) can compromise your machine. Afterwards, its nearly impossible to tell that youve been hacked.

Snowden and Lee, who both sit on the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, partnered with the Guardian Project, a collective of app developers who focus on privacy and encrypted communications, to create Haven over the last year. Snowden credited Nathan Freitas, the director of the Guardian Project, for writing the bulk of the code.

Though evil maid attacks are not a widespread concern were talking about people who cant go into the pool without their laptops, said Snowden, thats like nine people in the whole world Haven was conceptualized to benefit as many people as possible. Micah Lee points out in his article for The Intercept that victims of domestic abuse can also use Haven to see if their abuser is tampering with their devices. Snowden told me that they had thought very deliberately about intimate partner violence early on.

You shouldnt have to be saving the world to benefit from Haven, said Snowden, but acknowledged that the people most likely to be using Haven were paranoid developers and human rights activists in the global south. Andy Greenberg describes in WIRED how the Guardian Project worked with the Colombian activist group Movilizatario to run a trial of the software earlier this year. Sixty testers from Movilizatario used Haven to safeguard their devices and to provide some kind of record if they should be kidnapped in the middle of the night.

It was this case scenario that sprung to the mind of Jacqueline Moudeina when she spoke with Snowden earlier this year. In many places around the world, people are disappearing in the night, he said. For those dissidents, Haven was reassurance that if government agents break into their home and take them away, at least someone would know they were taken. In those cases, Haven can be installed on primary phones, and the app is set to send notifications to a friend.

I asked Snowden what it was like to collaborate on a software project while in exile in Russia. It wasnt that bad, he said. Since he became stranded in Russia in 2013, technology has progressed to the point where its much easier to talk to people all over the world in secure ways. The creators of Haven were scattered all over the globe. Exile is losing its teeth, he told me.

More than anything, Snowden is hoping that Haven an open source project that anyone can examine, contribute to, or adapt for their own purposes spins out into many different directions, addressing threat models of all kinds. There are so many different kinds of sensors in mobile phones that the possibilities were boundless. He wondered, for instance, if a barometer in a smartphone could possibly detect a door opening in a room.

Threat models dont have to involve authoritarian governments kidnapping and torturing activists. Lex Gill posted on Twitter that her partner had been testing Haven with a spare phone for a month, and she had begun to use it to send helpful reminders.

And when Nathan Freitas explained his most recent project to his young children, he discovered yet another use case. Were going to use it to catch Santa! they told him excitedly.

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Edward Snowden made an app to protect your laptop – The Verge

Edward Snowden’s Haven app uses your phone to detect intruders

Given the need for some journalists to protect their hard-won information, it’s no surprise that Haven may see use as a means to keep shady interlopers from PCs and laptops containing sensitive data. The Intercept’s Micah Lee helped develop the app, and described how it could be used to deal with so-called “evil maid” attacks, in which an attacker attempts to physically tamper with a machine in order to compromise it.

“Here’s how Haven might work,” he writes. “You lock your laptop in a hotel safe not a secure move on its own and place your Haven phone on top of it. If someone opens the safe while you’re away, the phone’s light meter might detect a change in lighting, its microphone might hear the safe open (and even the attacker speak), its accelerometer might detect motion if the attacker moves the laptop, and its camera might even capture a snapshot of the attacker’s face.”

Haven won’t necessarily protect such attacks from being carried out, but the app can be configured to send notifications and recordings via text message and Signal (for end-to-end encryption) when the phone’s sensors detect something out of the ordinary. And even in cases where the phone itself doesn’t have network access and can’t fire off those warnings — say, if the phone doesn’t have a SIM card or isn’t connected to WiFi — every event that triggers an alert is logged locally on the phone. That way, the machine’s owner will still be able to tell that an unauthorized actor may have had access to it.

Of course, Haven could and should see use outside of those very specific scenarios. Guardian Project founder Nate Freitas calls Haven “the most powerful, secure and private baby monitor system ever,” and it’s not hard to imagine leaving a spare room in a room with a child to relay every anguished crying jag to parents. None of the data captured by Haven is relayed to third-party servers, so parents and paranoiacs can rest easier knowing they’re in full control of this highly personal data. Meanwhile, Wired reports that Haven provided peace of mind to some 60 social activists in Colombia, a country that has seen more than 100 activists assassinated in the past year alone according to a recent UN report.

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Edward Snowden’s Haven app uses your phone to detect intruders

"You’re Being Watched": Edward Snowden Emerges … – YouTube – Former CIA employee Edward Snowden has come forward as the whistleblower behind the explosive revelations about the National Security Agency and the U.S. surveillance state. Three weeks ago the 29-year-old left his job inside the NSA’s office in Hawaii where he worked for the private intelligence firm Booz Allen Hamilton. Today he is in Hong Kong–not sure if he will ever see his home again. In a video interview with the Guardian of London, Snowden says he exposed top secret NSA surveillance programs to alert Americans of expansive government spying on innocents. “Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded,” Snowden says. “And the storage capability of these systems increases every year, consistently, by orders of magnitude, to where it’s getting to the point you don’t have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis, to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer… The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.”

Watch Democracy Now!’s ongoing coverage of the NSA leak at

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"You’re Being Watched": Edward Snowden Emerges … – YouTube

Government Surveillance: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver …

There are very few government checks on what Americas sweeping surveillance programs are capable of doing. John Oliver sits down with Edward Snowden to discuss the NSA, the balance between privacy and security, and dick-pics.

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Edward Snowden: Surveillance Is about Power – YouTube

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden says government surveillance is taking away our privacy AND our security. For his full speech, watch…SUBSCRIBE:

LEARN MORE: Snowden: Democracy Under Surveillance (lecture): To hear more insights from Edward Snowden, check out the full lecture Democracy Under Surveillance: A Conversation with Edward Snowden.… NSA Surveillance Debate: Cindy Cohn vs Ronald Sievert (debate): Prof. Ronald Sievert of Texas A+M and Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation debate government data collection and the tradeoff between privacy, liberty, and security.… Hacking the Future (video): Nico Sell, founder of Wickr Foundation, explains why we should change our perception of hackers, from sinister antagonists to invaluable assets.…

TRANSCRIPT:For a full transcript please visit:…

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Edward Snowden: Surveillance Is about Power – YouTube

On the trail of Edward Snowden –

From the Kennedy Assassination to Edward Snowden, Edward Jay Epstein has built a career out of challenging the conventional wisdom. The author of several seminal works of investigative journalism is the subject of an arresting new documentary, Hall of Mirrors, which premiered at the New York Film Festival this month. It is looking for distribution. The film marks the directing debut of sisters Ena and Ines Talakic, and serves as both a retrospective of Epsteins fascinating career and a memorial to a type of reporting that has largely fallen out of favor in an era of clickbait headlines.

Hes just someone who asks basic questions and gets full access to the most incredible people, said Ines Talakic. He takes his time and he digs deep.

Thats been a hallmark of Epsteins career. As an undergraduate at Cornell he managed to speak to nearly every member of the Warren Commission save for Chief Justice Earl Warren. His resulting book, 1966s Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth, pulled back the curtain on a shoddy investigation into Lee Harvey Oswalds motives and methods at a time when the consensus view was the government has left no stone unturned. A long line of Kennedy conspiracy theories can be traced back to the questions Inquest raised.

I like learning, said Epstein. I spend years investigating something and over that time you really become an expert.

Armed with a deep-seeded curiosity, Epstein spent the rest of his career tackling thorny subjects. He wrote one of the early works of media criticism, News From Nowhere, after spending four months in the newsroom of NBC, and an additional two months in those of CBS and ABC. Later works such as The Rise and Fall of Diamonds, a look at the cartels behind the precious gems, and Dossier: The Secret History of Armand Hammer, a biography of the monomaniacal and ethically shady chairman of the Occidental Petroleum Company, were also deeply researched.

But its not just unscrupulous moguls and political conspiracies. Epstein has also written lucidly about Hollywood. Hes had a particular fascination and fluidity with the movie business economic underpinnings and colorful accounting project. Perhaps it was an earlier failed attempt to produce a film version of the Illiad that interested him in Tinseltown. The 81-year old writers next project will look at digital disruption and its impact on the film industry.

The Talakic sisters met Epstein at a party hosted by Nouriel Roubini, the noted economist, and eventually convinced the writer that he would be a good subject for a documentary. They then spent more than four years getting an up close and personal look at Epsteins methods and archives.

Ed is fascinating because you realize that he is really a part of history through all of his investigations, said Ena Talakic. We found it interesting that someone who just asks basic questions can end up getting full access to people and can convince them to talk to him.

Over the course of the film, the Talakic sisters follow Epstein as he heads to Hawaii, Hong Kong, and Russia, re-tracing the route that Snowden took as he decided to reveal the inner workings of Americas intelligence gathering operation, and later was forced to seek asylum from Vladimir Putin.

To prove his point that Snowden might have been a spy, Epstein tracked down former neighbors, co-workers, and members of the KGB. The book that emerged from the months of reporting, How America Lost Its Secrets, elicited some heated criticism, particularly from journalists such as Glenn Grenwald and Barton Gellman, who broke the initial Snowden pieces.

How America Lost Its Secrets debuted in January of 2017. Epstein wonders if the book and its claims about Russias designs on Snowden wouldnt have been more warmly received if it came out a few months later, when Russia was a hot topic. After all, the Kremlin is in the headlines for trying to manipulate the U.S. presidential election, and Putins ambitions to influence Western politics have become clearer.

Its hard to pretend now that it didnt matter that Snowden went to Russia, said Epstein. The view of Russia at the time was benign. Now its demonic.

Hall of Mirrors is very much a celebration of a life well lived and a body of investigative work that has helped shape popular perceptions of government, culture, and commerce. Theres something sad about it, however. Its a reminder that the kind of reporting that Epstein does research intensive, meticulous, and wide ranging is fading. The journalism that is replacing it looks flimsy by comparison.

There are fewer and fewer outlets for investigative reporting, said Ines Talakic. Most people arent able to spend the same type of time. People are under so much pressure to rush stories.

Epsteins career and writings are a reminder that great reporting shouldnt be rushed. It takes time to discover the truth.

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On the trail of Edward Snowden –

Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance …

The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said.

Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world’s most secretive organisations the NSA.

In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”

Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. “I don’t want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing.”

He does not fear the consequences of going public, he said, only that doing so will distract attention from the issues raised by his disclosures. “I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me.”

Despite these fears, he remained hopeful his outing will not divert attention from the substance of his disclosures. “I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in.” He added: “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

He has had “a very comfortable life” that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”

Three weeks ago, Snowden made final preparations that resulted in last week’s series of blockbuster news stories. At the NSA office in Hawaii where he was working, he copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose.

He then advised his NSA supervisor that he needed to be away from work for “a couple of weeks” in order to receive treatment for epilepsy, a condition he learned he suffers from after a series of seizures last year.

As he packed his bags, he told his girlfriend that he had to be away for a few weeks, though he said he was vague about the reason. “That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world.”

On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.

In the three weeks since he arrived, he has been ensconced in a hotel room. “I’ve left the room maybe a total of three times during my entire stay,” he said. It is a plush hotel and, what with eating meals in his room too, he has run up big bills.

He is deeply worried about being spied on. He lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping. He puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them.

Though that may sound like paranoia to some, Snowden has good reason for such fears. He worked in the US intelligence world for almost a decade. He knows that the biggest and most secretive surveillance organisation in America, the NSA, along with the most powerful government on the planet, is looking for him.

Since the disclosures began to emerge, he has watched television and monitored the internet, hearing all the threats and vows of prosecution emanating from Washington.

And he knows only too well the sophisticated technology available to them and how easy it will be for them to find him. The NSA police and other law enforcement officers have twice visited his home in Hawaii and already contacted his girlfriend, though he believes that may have been prompted by his absence from work, and not because of suspicions of any connection to the leaks.

“All my options are bad,” he said. The US could begin extradition proceedings against him, a potentially problematic, lengthy and unpredictable course for Washington. Or the Chinese government might whisk him away for questioning, viewing him as a useful source of information. Or he might end up being grabbed and bundled into a plane bound for US territory.

“Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets,” he said.

“We have got a CIA station just up the road the consulate here in Hong Kong and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week. And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be.”

Having watched the Obama administration prosecute whistleblowers at a historically unprecedented rate, he fully expects the US government to attempt to use all its weight to punish him. “I am not afraid,” he said calmly, “because this is the choice I’ve made.”

He predicts the government will launch an investigation and “say I have broken the Espionage Act and helped our enemies, but that can be used against anyone who points out how massive and invasive the system has become”.

The only time he became emotional during the many hours of interviews was when he pondered the impact his choices would have on his family, many of whom work for the US government. “The only thing I fear is the harmful effects on my family, who I won’t be able to help any more. That’s what keeps me up at night,” he said, his eyes welling up with tears.

Snowden did not always believe the US government posed a threat to his political values. He was brought up originally in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. His family moved later to Maryland, near the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade.

By his own admission, he was not a stellar student. In order to get the credits necessary to obtain a high school diploma, he attended a community college in Maryland, studying computing, but never completed the coursework. (He later obtained his GED.)

In 2003, he enlisted in the US army and began a training program to join the Special Forces. Invoking the same principles that he now cites to justify his leaks, he said: “I wanted to fight in the Iraq war because I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression”.

He recounted how his beliefs about the war’s purpose were quickly dispelled. “Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone,” he said. After he broke both his legs in a training accident, he was discharged.

After that, he got his first job in an NSA facility, working as a security guard for one of the agency’s covert facilities at the University of Maryland. From there, he went to the CIA, where he worked on IT security. His understanding of the internet and his talent for computer programming enabled him to rise fairly quickly for someone who lacked even a high school diploma.

By 2007, the CIA stationed him with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland. His responsibility for maintaining computer network security meant he had clearance to access a wide array of classified documents.

That access, along with the almost three years he spent around CIA officers, led him to begin seriously questioning the rightness of what he saw.

He described as formative an incident in which he claimed CIA operatives were attempting to recruit a Swiss banker to obtain secret banking information. Snowden said they achieved this by purposely getting the banker drunk and encouraging him to drive home in his car. When the banker was arrested for drunk driving, the undercover agent seeking to befriend him offered to help, and a bond was formed that led to successful recruitment.

“Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he says. “I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”

He said it was during his CIA stint in Geneva that he thought for the first time about exposing government secrets. But, at the time, he chose not to for two reasons.

First, he said: “Most of the secrets the CIA has are about people, not machines and systems, so I didn’t feel comfortable with disclosures that I thought could endanger anyone”. Secondly, the election of Barack Obama in 2008 gave him hope that there would be real reforms, rendering disclosures unnecessary.

He left the CIA in 2009 in order to take his first job working for a private contractor that assigned him to a functioning NSA facility, stationed on a military base in Japan. It was then, he said, that he “watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in”, and as a result, “I got hardened.”

The primary lesson from this experience was that “you can’t wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act.”

Over the next three years, he learned just how all-consuming the NSA’s surveillance activities were, claiming “they are intent on making every conversation and every form of behaviour in the world known to them”.

He described how he once viewed the internet as “the most important invention in all of human history”. As an adolescent, he spent days at a time “speaking to people with all sorts of views that I would never have encountered on my own”.

But he believed that the value of the internet, along with basic privacy, is being rapidly destroyed by ubiquitous surveillance. “I don’t see myself as a hero,” he said, “because what I’m doing is self-interested: I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.”

Once he reached the conclusion that the NSA’s surveillance net would soon be irrevocable, he said it was just a matter of time before he chose to act. “What they’re doing” poses “an existential threat to democracy”, he said.

As strong as those beliefs are, there still remains the question: why did he do it? Giving up his freedom and a privileged lifestyle? “There are more important things than money. If I were motivated by money, I could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich.”

For him, it is a matter of principle. “The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to,” he said.

His allegiance to internet freedom is reflected in the stickers on his laptop: “I support Online Rights: Electronic Frontier Foundation,” reads one. Another hails the online organisation offering anonymity, the Tor Project.

Asked by reporters to establish his authenticity to ensure he is not some fantasist, he laid bare, without hesitation, his personal details, from his social security number to his CIA ID and his expired diplomatic passport. There is no shiftiness. Ask him about anything in his personal life and he will answer.

He is quiet, smart, easy-going and self-effacing. A master on computers, he seemed happiest when talking about the technical side of surveillance, at a level of detail comprehensible probably only to fellow communication specialists. But he showed intense passion when talking about the value of privacy and how he felt it was being steadily eroded by the behaviour of the intelligence services.

His manner was calm and relaxed but he has been understandably twitchy since he went into hiding, waiting for the knock on the hotel door. A fire alarm goes off. “That has not happened before,” he said, betraying anxiety wondering if was real, a test or a CIA ploy to get him out onto the street.

Strewn about the side of his bed are his suitcase, a plate with the remains of room-service breakfast, and a copy of Angler, the biography of former vice-president Dick Cheney.

Ever since last week’s news stories began to appear in the Guardian, Snowden has vigilantly watched TV and read the internet to see the effects of his choices. He seemed satisfied that the debate he longed to provoke was finally taking place.

He lay, propped up against pillows, watching CNN’s Wolf Blitzer ask a discussion panel about government intrusion if they had any idea who the leaker was. From 8,000 miles away, the leaker looked on impassively, not even indulging in a wry smile.

Snowden said that he admires both Ellsberg and Manning, but argues that there is one important distinction between himself and the army private, whose trial coincidentally began the week Snowden’s leaks began to make news.

“I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest,” he said. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”

He purposely chose, he said, to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed.

As for his future, he is vague. He hoped the publicity the leaks have generated will offer him some protection, making it “harder for them to get dirty”.

He views his best hope as the possibility of asylum, with Iceland with its reputation of a champion of internet freedom at the top of his list. He knows that may prove a wish unfulfilled.

But after the intense political controversy he has already created with just the first week’s haul of stories, “I feel satisfied that this was all worth it. I have no regrets.”

Read more:
Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance …